Yecke’s appointment as Commissioner of Education must be denied.

It amazes me, the similar theme I keep hearing from this group of ideologues, “Let’s turn back the clock to a simpler time, the 1950s, before we had all these social problems.” David Strom thinks big government caused all the problems and Commissioner Yecke thinks education went haywire when we started teaching democracy and social action. As if to say we only have problems because we talk about them. If we just kept our eyes closed and our mouths shut, we might still living in the bliss of the Eisenhower administration. This was the theme of Ronald Reagan’s America as well. The bliss of the 1950s? Whose life are they ‘remembering?’ In the 1950s students who didn’t like school dropped out and there were manufacturing jobs they could go to. Shouldn’t we be more than concerned when the new Commissioner’s first acts are to stifle thought and options in education?

The first thing on Commissioner Yecke’s agenda was to reclaim the name of the Department of Education (never mind that ‘Children, Families and Learning’ was a result of the Arnie Carlson administration’s effort to facilitate greater cooperation between the schools and social service agencies in solving the problems of poverty and abuse) because “schools need to focus on education and nothing else.” Their belief? “If a child goes to school hungry or is subject to abuse they shouldn’t bring that problem to school.” Number two on the priority list was, as they are fond of saying, ‘the hated Profile of Learning.’ “No,” the argument goes, “We will have tests and every child will learn the same thing in the same way and graduate with the same ideas and beliefs. That was the way they did it in the 1950s, and that was when America was great.” At least profile recognized there were different ways for teachers to teach and for students to show what they learned. What happened to Howard Gardner’s insights about different kinds of learners? Nature is full of examples showing diversity is superior to standardization. So why are we so set on standardizing the way we teach? Could be not about learning but about control?

Maybe they weren’t living in the 1950s, but even if they were, where do they get the idea they were so wonderful? It must come from their belief that the 1960s and 1970s ruined everything. “Now no one believes in rules, no one has any respect for God or country or anyone else and it’s all because of those counter culture years.” They might say. But what I think they’re really bemoaning is a partial shift in priorities, a partial awakening. Although I was around in the 1950s, what I remember is that it was not easy for my family, it was not ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ because of my father’s poor health. When I grew up in the 60s, I remember people caring a lot about their country and about each other. Yes there were struggles about what America should stand for, what our nation should be doing in Vietnam or in the neighborhoods of Watts, but people cared, acted on their beliefs, and made some overdue changes in our society. This is how democracy works.

But those controlling ‘education’ in Minnesota seem to be threatened by these changes and want to go backwards, and are going backwards in their policies. I see a far bigger problem in the mind numbing products of corporate America that have greater influence and power than the schools and families. Where is the concern about the power of advertising, or the power of media when ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few, often those same corporations benefiting from war or nuclear power? It frightens me when our leaders point to the wrong culprits when they say we have been corrupted. I am worried that the calls for quiet and order and standardization are really calls to end democracy and social concern and ultimately critical thinking. When our commissioner Yecke packs her committees with parents and conservative business leaders and think tank operatives over experienced teachers and education administrators to create standards, I am worried. When she reveals standards that attest to a biased point of view, I am worried. One wonders if she believes we need teachers or teacher training if we are not going to utilize teacher’s expertise in determining how and what students should learn.

What is Yecke’s agenda? When I heard she was coming to Minnesota, some colleagues of mine and I did a search to learn about her background and found numerous ties to ultra conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Fordham Foundation. We found she was strongly opposed to outcome-based education and strongly opposed to standardized testing as proposed by the Clinton administration. But now that Bush is pushing them, suddenly they have become the best thing for education since the slide rule. In her tenure in Virginia, she pushed through standards of learning, which I understand are now being abandoned.

Governor Pawlenty claimed he brought her here to be a catalyst for change to promote real reform. Her notion of reform seems to imply all schools are failing and school vouchers to private schools are the only answer. But have we examined what those schools are like? Have we had a real discussion about what kind of reform is needed for Minnesota schools? On the eve of Yecke’s confirmation hearing, I must say, I am ready for a change! What about you? We need to let the Committee members know how we feel about the direction they’re taking education in Minnesota

The Senate hearing before the Education Committee regarding confirmation or denial of confirmation of Commissioner Yecke is scheduled for Thursday, April 1 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 115 at the State Capitol.

If you can’t make, it send me a quote, email your thoughts, and I’ll pass it on:

I believe the appointment of Commissioner Yecke should be denied because_______________________.

To register your thoughts about Commissioner Yecke directly, contact the Committee Chair, Sen. Steve Kelley.

Members of the committee are:
Chair: Steve Kelley
V.Chair: Rod Skoe sen.rod
Ranking Minority Member: Gen Olson
Michele Bachmann
David Hann
Geoff Michel
Sandra Pappas
Jane Ranum
LeRoy Stumpf
David Tomassoni

The Republicans are so desperate for support that they have started a propaganda website and commissioned for their Commissioner an on-line petition. Check it out! It contains the names of Yecke’s relatives and the initiators of the Petition. Based on the few names listed and the specific names, it seems she does not have a broad base of support.

The Education Committee will recognize a propaganda petition, and more importantly, they will recognize the difference between the administration’s slick moneyed PR campaign and your individual heartfelt expressions of opinion. Let them know what you think about Commissioner Yecke. I have!! And I will continue to let them know until the vote.

There’s another petition out there asking the senate to reject her confirmation. There are 4000 signatures and its still growing. You can sign on by connecting here. “Block Yecke’s Confirmation

But remember, the most effective communication with legislators is an individual expression of your opinion – for each contact they receive, they assume over one hundred people are feeling the same way. Computer generated mass mailings are easily recognizable and are not regarded with the same weight. So tell them in your own words what YOU think.
In February, House DFLers issued the following Press release as their vote of no confidence and request to the Senate that Yecke’s confirmation be denied:
State Representative Mindy Greiling
259 State Office Building
100 Constitution Ave., St. Paul, MN 55155
(651) 296-5387
For Immediate Release For more information contact:
2/18/2004 Tom Smalec (651-296-5524)

House DFLers Ask Senate to Remove Commissioner Yecke From Office

DFL members of the House of Representatives are asking the State Senate to withhold confirmation of Education Commissioner Cheri Pearson Yecke, citing her efforts to reduce local control over education and centralize power in the St. Paul bureaucracy, according to House DFL Leader Matt Entenza and Rep. Mindy Greiling.

“In the past year, Commissioner Yecke has led the Minnesota Department of Education in a manner that is unresponsive to the needs of public school students, their parents and public school teachers and administrators,” the DFLers state in a letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson today. “She has attempted to centralize control over our schools in St. Paul, rather than provide for more local control over school operations.”

Greiling, Lead DFLer on the House Education Finance Committee, said the letter is a reflection of statewide concern over the way Yecke has run roughshod over Minnesota’s tradition of local control and her support for imposing a political agenda that has damaged the state’s schools – including the first-ever real-dollar cut in school funding last year.

“This letter expresses a sense of outrage not only among legislators, but among parents and education professionals at Commissioner Yecke’s high-handed and ideological management,” Greiling said. “She couldn’t get elected to a school board herself, but now she is trying to impose an agenda from the top down over the questions and objections of local educators.”

The letter cites six reasons for withholding confirmation of Yecke’s appointment:

* Her advocacy of “politically charged standards and operation directives” that rob parents, teachers and local school officials of their control over schools.

* Her injection of politics into the new Social Studies standards, which “do not reflect the views of mainstream Minnesota, but rather a narrow, agenda that does not respect the need for local control.”

* The fact that Yecke has lost the confidence of teachers, administrators and parents and brought “partisan, political operatives” into power at the Department of Education.

* The fact that Yecke “does not share in the long Minnesota tradition of a strong, equitable, public school system assuring opportunity for individuals and the competitiveness of the state.”

* Statements in her recent book about middle school education that are “slanted to achieve a narrow, conservative agenda rather than promoting what is really happening in our public schools.”

* Yecke’s ‘disrespect’ of the education community, evidenced by her “accusing well-respected University of Minnesota educators of promoting a ‘socialist-leaning agenda’ ” and attacks on others who disagree with her.

“The decision on appointment of an Education Commissioner should be based on what’s best for the schools and the students,” Entenza said. “Commissioner Yecke’s slow undoing of local control disqualifies her from any leadership position in Minnesota education. Our children are too important to be the subjects of political manipulation.”

Rep. Mindy Greiling talked about this a bit when she and Rep. Connie Bernardy were here at the ALC last month for an Education Conversation. As seen on this website.

Yecke’s book has been reviewed in the press. Here is one review, an education expert, who sees where Yecke is going with her “philosophy” and seems to understand her well:

Book Review: The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocity in America’s Middle Schools by Cheri Pierson Yecke
Publication Date: 2004-03-22

By Susan Ohanian

It’s scary to think that this book’s author is the commissioner of education in Minnesota, formerly holding the top post in Virginia.

Book Review: The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocity in America’s Middle Schools. Praeger Publishers. 2004. Foreword by William J. Bennett. $49.95

It’s hard to figure who will plunk down $49.95 for this book. The book is badly written and badly thought. William J. Bennett proves you don’t need to read a book to write its foreword. To fill the space, Bennett quotes from one of his own books.

Nasty and inarticulate as she is, Yecke is right about one thing. She says that the middle school movement and the standards movement can’t coexist. And they can’t! I wonder when teachers grasping at straws will face this reality–and then defend middle schoolers.

Here from Noel Schmitt in the Pioneer Press:

The commissioner’s book is a reflection of her thoughts, ideologies and clear political agenda. At no point in her 267-page book does she even give one example of a successful middle school operating according to the National Middle School Association guidelines. Not a single example. Apparently, according to the commissioner of education, very little good is occurring in middle schools around the nation and in Minnesota.

The role of the commissioner of education is to promote the good that is occurring in Minnesota schools and to start conversations that result in improved schools for students. The commissioner’s job is not to use hyperbole, political zealotry and mystification to confuse, bewilder and obfuscate the truth.

It is clear from her book that she plans to dismantle the good that is found in many excellent middle schools throughout the state. Her ideas on middle level education will not serve to advance the quality of education that our students receive. Instead, her ideas will set middle schools back 30 years and throw out volumes of sound educational research.

The people of Minnesota deserve better.

Schmidt is president of the Minnesota Middle School Association. He is principal at Central Middle School in the White Bear Lake Area Schools.

Yecke’s confirmation hearing is April 1, and it’s not a joke, it’s a very serious matter. Let the members of the Senate Education Committee know what you think.

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